The 6 Best Free Payroll Software Programs for Small Business

Few business owners enjoy doing payroll, and even fewer want to pay for the software needed to run payroll. Fortunately, there are a variety of free payroll software options for small businesses on the market. These tools not only reduce your operating costs, but can also streamline the payroll process— giving you more time to focus on your business.

In this review, we are going to touch on some of the best free payroll software for small businesses. These are tools that can quickly and accurately determine what an employee is owed each pay period via their hours worked, and also keep track of deductions like workers compensation and taxes. But before we give you our recommendations, let’s understand exactly what a small business should prioritize in their payroll service.

The 6 Best Free Payroll Software

Now that we know what to look for in a free payroll service, here are our suggestions for the best free payroll software for small business owners.

1. Payroll4Free.com

It’s always nice when a business’s name can describe exactly what it is that the business does. At the risk of sounding redundant, Payroll4Free is a free payroll software for small businesses. The catch is that it is only free for businesses with under 25 employees (after that, it’s $35 a month). If that’s you, you’ll get access to a nice set of features, including:

  • Payment delivery via paper check or direct deposit into the business owners bank account (though you’ll have to pay an additional $12.50 per month to have paychecks deposited into individual employee accounts). Note that you can also print checks with Payroll4Free.
  • The ability to pay W-2 workers (full-time employees) and 1099 workers (contractors).
  • Calculation of federal, state, and local tax deductions. Payroll4Free will also file your payroll taxes for an additional $12.50 per month.
  • The ability to set up benefits deductions to be calculated each payroll period.
  • Time tracking of PTO and sick leave.
  • An employee portal where employees can print pay stubs and W-2s, review their accrued vacation time, make changes to their personal information, and more.
  • A reporting suite where you can view details on earnings, taxes, benefits, accrued time, payroll journal reports, and more.
  • Integrations with a variety of accounting software, banks, and benefit companies. You can also import employee hours from a time clock file.
  • Customer support via phone, email, and live chat.

Overall, Payroll4Free provides a lot of useful features for a free service. If you’re wondering how they can afford to offer all of this at no charge, it’s because Payroll4Free is paid by other vendors to place ads within its software. As long as that doesn’t bother you, this is a really nice option for businesses with fewer than 25 employees.

2. HR.my

HR.my offers payroll services and additional HR tools at no cost. Similar to Payroll4Free, HR.my is supported by ads, as well as some crowdfunding. There is no limit to the number of employees you can have on payroll with HR.my, and you can also use HR.my to process payroll for international employees. Here’s a complete list of what you can do with HR.my:

  • Deliver payment to your employees via direct deposit, check, or cash. Payroll schedule can be set up to run monthly, semi-monthly, weekly and biweekly.
  • Manually set up salary adjustments, deductions, and bonuses for each employee. HR.my cannot support any tax or benefits administration.
  • Employees get access to their own HR.my account when you onboard them into the system. From here they can view and print out their most recent pay stub, clock in and out of shifts, request PTO and sick leave, and check their vacation balance. Managers also have the ability to approve or deny vacation requests.
  • Use the vacation/sick leave planner to set employee schedules.
  • Import timesheets, expense reports, and purchase requests for manager approval using HR.my’s Document Workflow. You can also share documents within the organization, such as the employee handbook and company policies.
  • Connections to HR.my are encrypted with SSL protocol. HR.my data is secured with daily off-site backup and data export.
  • There is a user guide on the HR.my website, but no other type of customer support is offered.

This is a decent small business free payroll software option for those who may work with employees based outside of the United States. You won’t get the same range of features as you would with Payroll4Free, but you can run payroll for however many employees you need, and never have to worry about paying a cent. Just be sure you stay on top of tax and benefits compliance.

3. Wave Payroll

Wave Payroll isn’t exactly free, but it offers so many free features that we felt it was worthy of mentioning. Basically, depending on the state in which you operate, Wave will charge you between $20 and $35 to run payroll, plus $4 per employee. But for that price you also get an accounting platform and invoicing and expense management tools, making Wave an all-in-one solution for managing your business’s incoming and outgoing finances. Let’s look at everything Wave Payroll can provide:

  • Deliver payment for both W-2 and 1099 workers via check or direct deposit on a weekly, biweekly, bimonthly, and monthly basis. Wave Payroll also offers a check printing option.
  • Calculate tax deductions and file and pay federal, state, and local taxes for businesses located in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Washington. In states where tax administration is available, Wave charges $35 per month. In states where it is not available, Wave charges $20 per month.
  • An employee portal where staff can view payroll-related data, including salary, vacation time left, downloadable pay stubs, and tax forms—including year-end tax forms. They can also view the status of a payroll transfer, and see how soon the funds from their paycheck will be available to them.
  • An accounting platform with unlimited bank and credit card connections, income and expense tracking, and the ability to provide accountant or bookkeeper access. If you house your business’s books on Wave’s accounting platform, you’ll also get customizable sales taxes and accounting reports.
  • Create custom invoices to match your business’s branding, set up recurring invoices and automated credit card payments for repeat customers, and automatically record all invoice transactions in Wave’s accounting software.
  • Scan receipts and upload them to your accounting platform via the Wave mobile app.
  • Add buy buttons to a website and process digital credit card and ACH payments via Wave Payments. Processing fees are 2.9% + $0.30 per credit card transaction and 1% on ACH transfers.

While you cannot process payroll for free with Wave Payroll, the array of features you get make it a bargain nonetheless. If you are already paying for accounting software and payment processing somewhere else, why not consolidate them and get payroll services from Wave?

4. ExcelPayroll

If you’re currently doing your payroll calculations in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, consider upgrading to ExcelPayroll. This is a free software you can download that is essentially an Excel spreadsheet with additional payroll features. All you need to do is punch in your employees’ earnings and deductions and then ExcelPayroll will do the calculations for you. Here is more detail on how it works:

  • Process payroll in accordance with any cycle you like and for up to 50 employees. Then print checks using a laser printer and valid bank paper check stock.
  • Manually enter federal, state, and local tax information, as well as vacation and overtime accruals. ExcelPayroll cannot perform tax or benefits administration.
  • Import and export data in any format that Excel accepts, such as CSV and XLS.
  • Generate reports on tax compliance and workers’ compensation.
  • Generate accounting entries.
  • Customer support via email only.

This product is fairly bare-bones, and if you’re not an Excel user you’ll probably have a hard time with it. But for those that do use Excel, ExcelPayroll could be a great free payroll software for your small business.

5. RiseLite

If your small business has 20 employees of fewer, RiseLite is a great free payroll software option for you. The catch is, they’re only an option for businesses in Canada as of now. The service is completely free for businesses with 20 of fewer employees, but you’ll have to pay for the service if your small business increases.

They have good reviews from their customers and other sites. They have a 4.3 out of 5 star-rating from G2 and a 4 out of 5 stars from Software Advice.[1] The RiseLite software allows you to get set up and start processing payroll quickly. It also allows customers in Canada to automate their tax forms and saves users time when it comes to sorting through commissions, deductions, and bonuses. RiseLite features include:

  • Ability to pay employees whenever you want—you can make payments between regular pay period, cancel a payment add bonus pay, and more.
  • Create personalized payroll reports for your business so you can keep close track of the information that’s most important.
  • The platform offers reminders so you never miss a payment and keep your employees happy.
  • RiseLite is a cloud-based platform so you can access it from anywhere and stay on top of things even without access to your computer.

The one drawback here is that they only currently work with businesses based in Canada, but if your small business is Canadian then you’re in luck and can use RiseLite and all of its great features.

6. TimeTrex

This free payroll software even integrates your time-tracking with your payroll to help things run more smoothly. The open-sourced community edition of TimeTrex is free to the public, though it doesn’t come with the perks of the paid version, like mobile app and facial recognition timeclock. This version of the software is developed and maintained by volunteers from all over the world, so any support you need for the software will have to come from the community online forum.

It has all of the features of regular payroll software that you’d need to run your business, despite the lack of bells and whistles. Here is a rundown:

  • Time and attendance tracking accessible via a web browser for keeping track of employee hours and when they’re working.
  • Scheduling features to know who is working, when, and for how long.
  • One downside is that there is no tax filing feature and it won’t do your payroll taxes for you like some other options might.
  • TimeTrex can integrate with other payroll providers you might have used or might want to use in the future so you can keep all of your information even if you upgrade.

This is a free option created by a community so you won’t get some of the support you might get with a paid option, but other than that, it has great reviews and users report finding it useful.

Best Free Payroll Software for Small Businesses: Free Trials

While there are only a handful of free payroll software programs for small businesses available, there are a ton that offer free trials for a certain amount of time. This could be a good option if you’re looking for a payroll software but know that your small business might grow out of some of the free options, or if you’re looking to try out a few good ones.

Gusto Payroll

One of the most popular payroll services, Gusto Payroll, offers a one-month free trial of their payroll software for your small business. After the free month, you’ll have the option to continue and pay $39 per month plus $6 per month per employee for their basic option, Gusto Core. Gusto also has a new option for contractor-only employers, who simply pay the $6/employee rate and no base price.

Gusto Core comes with full service payroll, including tax filings, employee profiles and employee self-service, PTO tracking, health benefits and workers comp administration, and unlimited phone, email, and chat support. Higher tiers come with features like employee onboarding services and access to certified HR professionals.

QuickBooks Payroll

You can also get a free trial of QuickBooks Payroll if you’re interested in trying another payroll software for your small business before committing to one. It’s a popular option that has all of the bells and whistles you would be looking for, and three main different plans you can choose from depending on your business needs.

Note that there are different prices on the Quickbooks website depending on whether you buy outright when they might be offering a promotion, or if you do a free trial first. The cheapest option is called Core. The Core plan starts at $45 per month, plus $4 per employee per month and it’s a full-service payroll, it also comes with next-day direct deposit and automated tax forms.

The second and most popular plan is called Premium. This is a pricier option at $75 per month, plus $8 per employee per month, but comes with a host of additional features, like same-day direct deposit, an HR support center, and premium time tacking in the mobile app.

The last and final option Quickbooks offers is the Elite plan for $125 per month, plus an additional $10 per employee per month. In addition to all of the features that come with the less expensive plans, you’ll also get things like elite onboarding, time tracking, product support, and a personal HR advisor.

OnPay Payroll

Another cloud-based payroll service you could try for free when searching for payroll software for your small business is OnPay payroll. They will give you your first month free to try them out. They offer many of the same services others do, like scheduling pay, providing pay via checks or direct deposit, and helping you calculate what to withhold for tax purposes. After your first month, the pricing is $36 per month and an additional $4 a month per employee.

OnPay comes with a few additional perks as well. OnPay is a licensed health care insurance broker in all 50 states, making it easy for your employees to find the best and least-expensive small business health insurance plan for them. They also handle all administrative tasks related to health care, and can function similarly when employees are shopping for retirement plans.

Best Free Payroll Software: User Picks

Along with our own recommendations, we asked small business owners to provide their opinions on the best free payroll software they’ve tried. Here is what they had to say:

“In my opinion, the Kashflow package is the most intuitive and advanced system out there. Enabling me to carry out all my payroll tasks directly in the cloud from anywhere in the world, Kashflow saves me precious time and increases my productivity through its customized, tailored invoice templates. The highly secure program stores all my financial information online with regular backups and checks—giving me great piece of mind.”

—Ollie Smith, ExpertSure.com

“Wave has worked perfectly for us. It is very easy to use with an attractive interface and numerous features. It is cloud-based, so it’s accessible using both desktop and mobile devices.

You can create and send unlimited professional invoices. It helps us in keeping a record of which client had overdue invoices and which one had partially paid or fully paid. All your accounting, invoicing, and receipt scanning are completely free, and unlike other free programs, there are no hidden charges. Plus, they keep their software updated and keep introducing new features.”

—Brett Helling, GigWorker

“Payroll4Free is overall an ideal software for small businesses. It offers substantial benefits like managing PTO and vacation balances and calculating taxes to withhold and pay. The program integrates with QuickBooks and has extensive reporting options. What is nice about this is it allows you to set up direct deposit or paper check based on the employee’s request. When you include the excellent customer service, this software is a no-brainer for small business use.”

—Jared Weitz, United Capital Source

“ExcelPayroll can provide an easy solution for the payroll process of any small business. With some simple Microsoft Excel knowledge, you can determine earnings, deductions, overtime, and leave status of individual employees. In addition to that, you will be able to generate several accounting reports, which can be imported to other accounting software. On top of all that, ExcelPayroll is absolutely free and extremely easy to handle. Hence, ExcelPayroll is the best payroll software for any small business that has less than 50 employees.”

Andrei Vasilescu, Don’tPayFull

How We Chose the Best Free Payroll Software

The best payroll software for your business is partially determined by your unique needs. For example, if you work primarily with contractors, you’ll want a service that makes it easy to process payroll for 1099 workers. However, since we are only looking at free payroll software, you have to be prepared to make some sacrifices. A free payroll software isn’t going to provide you with a lot of bells and whistles.

That doesn’t mean that free payroll software can’t help your business. At a minimum, your free payroll software should be able to do the following:

  • Payment delivery: The primary function of any payroll software is to deliver payment to your employees. Even free software should be able to accomplish this task in one of two ways: direct deposit or paper check. Note that a free payroll service might charge you extra for paper check delivery.
  • Tax administration: Your payroll software must keep you compliant with the law. This means determining the correct federal, state, and local tax deductions each time you run payroll. It’s an added bonus if your payroll software also allows you to pay those taxes directly from the platform.
  • Benefits administration: Along with taxes, your payroll software should also be able to calculate benefits deductions for things like workers compensation, retirement plans, and insurance.
  • Time tracking: Your payroll software should be able to track your employees’ sick leave and PTO, as well as determine any overtime pay.
  • Employee access: Your payroll software should provide an online portal where employees can access their pay stubs and tax forms.
  • Customer service: If you ever run into issues, your payroll service provider should have a phone number or email you can contact for guidance. Even better if they provide 24/7 support. On their website, you should also be able to find guides and tutorials on how to use their payroll software.
  • Integrations: Not all free payroll software will integrate with other tools, but if you find one that can work with your accounting software, that’s an added bonus.
  • Ease of use: You’re going to be spending a lot of time working with your payroll software, so it helps to use a service that you find simple and intuitive.

The Bottom Line

We hope we’ve given you a starting point when selecting the best free payroll software for your business. The best way to proceed is to determine exactly what you need in your payroll software and then select the free option that provides as many of those solutions as possible. If you feel confident doing your own tax and benefits administration, perhaps you’ll go with ExcelPayroll or HR.my. If you need accounting software as well as payroll software, Wave is a good option. Ultimately, you know what is best for your business.

Article Sources:

  1. G2.com. “Rise Reviews

Matthew Speiser

Matthew Speiser is a former staff writer at Fundera.

He has written extensively about ecommerce, marketing and sales, and payroll and HR solutions, but is particularly knowledgeable about merchant services. Prior to Fundera, Matthew was an editorial lead at Google and an intern reporter at Business Insider. Matthew was also a co-author for Startup Guide—a series of guidebooks designed to assist entrepreneurs in different cities around the world.

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